Ecuador: Transport union leaders call off fuel protests following arrest | News | DW | 05.10.2019
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Ecuador: Transport union leaders call off fuel protests following arrest

President Lenin Moreno's multibillion-dollar fiscal reform package led to street protests and transport strikes. The reform measures are aimed at improving the country's economic revenue.

Protests over hikes in fuel prices ended in Ecuador on Friday. The military arrested transport union leaders after a strike that shut down taxi, bus, and other transport services. 

Military vehicles were dispatched to ferry civilian passengers affected by the demonstrations. 

Following the arrests, Ecuador's transport federations announced that the protests were suspended, suggesting an agreement with the government had been reached.

Speaking on Friday, Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno said, "There will be a mechanism to alleviate the effects that (the end of the subsidy) could have on some sectors, of course, and we are ready to do that, but under no circumstances will we change the measure."

State of emergency

On Thursday, Moreno declared a 60-day state of emergency in response to nationwide protests over fiscal reforms valued at over $2 billion (€1.8 billion) per year.

Moreno announced the package of reforms on Tuesday; its measures include tax reform, relaxing labor protections and doing away with 40-year-old fuel subsidies. He said the elimination of the fuel subsidies was needed to lift the economy and stop smuggling.

In a television address, Moreno said the price of gasoline would go up to $2.30 a gallon from $1.85 and the cost of diesel up to $2.27 from $1.03.

Moreno also announced that Ecuador would be leaving the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which it is the smallest member, on January 1, 2020 in order to increase its exports beyond the restrictions imposed by the group.

Protesters walk down the street in Quito (Reuters/D. Tapia)

Protesters included university students, union members and indigenous rights' activists

Tear gas and arrests

Increased fuel prices went into effect on Thursday, prompting Ecuadorians to take to the streets of the capital, Quito, and Guayaquil, the country's largest city.

Taxi, bus and truck drivers blocked streets and bus stations were closed for a nationwide transport strike, forcing the government to suspend schools.

Various groups of protesters blocked roads, burned tires and scuffled with police, who responded in certain instances with tear gas.

The demonstrators put the fuel measures at the forefront of their protest message, but also called for the general repeal of the package.

According to the Interior Ministry, some 19 people were arrested in relation to the protests.

Moreno: No going back

Moreno said he called the state of emergency "to ensure citizens' security and avoid chaos." The measure suspends some civil rights, allows authorities to commandeer public or private property and empowers the military to keep order.

Hours later, he told reporters that order had been restored and praised the armed forces and police. "The areas of violence are being controlled almost totally," he said.

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Moreno, who has promoted market-friendly policies since his election in 2017, said he would not backtrack on the fiscal reform. He described the fuel subsidies as "perverse" and said they had distorted Ecuador's economy.

Ecuador, which has a population of 17 million, has a long history of political and economic instability.

Prior to Moreno taking office, the country had been on a leftist economic course under Rafael Correa for 10 years. It is currently struggling with high levels of public debt.

Moreno's administration reached a $4.2 billion deal with the International Monetary Fund in February. However, many remain skeptical of its austerity policies.

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kp,cmb/ng (EFE, AP, Reuters)

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